Cross Over aims to help vulnerable children in Zimbabwe to live and work towards a hopeful future by providing a holistic quality education within a strong nurturing environment.
Cross Over study groups are small with no more than 15 students. Each group is led by a mentor. The small group size enables them to closely monitor all aspects of a student’s life: health, nutrition, their home situation, their spiritual and emotional health and their academic progress. All groups follow the same learning approach, based on a unique curriculum designed to consistently incorporate the development of character, thinking and practical skills into every area of study.
The Pop-Up Classroom
Cross Over has been established within the existing limited and cramped facilities available, but they have also been developing the concept of the Pop-Up Classroom. A Pop-Up Classroom enables mentors and their students to set up a teaching/learning space outdoors or within other available spaces. This begins to break down the limitations of existing space and enables potential growth in the number of mentors and students.
Cross Over was founded by Deb Norton with the help of her friend Cath Oldreive. In her own words Deb describes something of the journey towards establishing Cross Over:
“My experience with children in poor communities began with my work as a district pharmacist in the Ministry of Health where I found myself increasingly drawn to preventative practice in the public health arena rather than curative intervention. Later I moved with my husband to live for 7 years in a communal land in Zimbabwe whilst he worked on an agricultural development project. This experience further reinforced the sense that preventing problems in vulnerable communities was far more important than trying to fix them afterwards. It also opened our eyes to the fact that community development is a complex matter where the needs of individuals must be considered holistically and where individuals can never be separated from their families and communities.”
From the experiences of needing to home school their own children and ongoing involvement in the communities in which they lived and worked, Deb goes on to say:
“As I continued to work with children from vulnerable backgrounds and saw the difficulties they and their families encountered with education, I began to wonder whether there was not some way to enable poor communities to benefit from some aspects of the home-schooling approach to education that I was involved in. Over the years this has grown into a conviction that we can find a different way to empower poor communities to start and develop educational initiatives for themselves without waiting for expensive infrastructure and staff to come from elsewhere.
Our nation began to go through a time of huge economic upheaval and political turmoil which had a devastating effect on our schools. I began to notice a disturbing drop in academic ability year on year among the children I was involved with and saw families experiencing increasing difficulty to educate their children.”
“By 2007 my concern over the breakdown of education, family structures and good character and the negative impact this was having in the community, particularly among children and youth, was acute. Dropping out of school was a crushing experience for many children and for girls, especially, it marked the end of any further opportunity to develop themselves. These young people with nothing to do and nowhere to go would frequently end up in early sexual relationships often resulting in unplanned pregnancies and the further spread of the HIV virus.
We started Cross Over Study Groups with nowhere to meet, no furniture, no blackboard, no money… and no experience except what we had gained in working with poor communities and teaching our own children…
We met wherever we could: on the floor of an empty room when one was available and outside on the grass under a tree when one was not. At first it was only 2 days a week, then a third day was added to include teaching Foundations for Farming and the practical work this involves. We then built up to a four day study week with a fifth day for team meeting, prayer, training and lesson preparation.”
Deb is in the picture above, teaching with the new Pop-up classroom – as the founder and pioneer of Cross Over Study Groups, she has worked unbelievably hard – ‘above and beyond’ over the past several years to get things to where they are. Cross Over is bringing hope, change and transformation, both to the lives of the young people who attend as students and the communities that they are part of.